If you are a marathoner – or an aspiring one or even an athlete – and you believe chia seeds will be a “super food” that boosts your performance through “carb loading,” you need to rethink. Among those is the researcher/runner who had a theory that chia did work wonders.
So says a new study in which N.C. researchers say the data “debunks” the super food belief.
“It is all a bunch of hype and hope mixed together,” says Dr. David Nieman, a marathoner himself, and who directs the Appalachian State University Human Performance Laboratory at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis.
“There are a lot of people out there that think chia seed has special abilities to improve their health very quickly and none of that is true,” Nieman explained. “Chia is a very nutritious food. It is very similar to other nuts and seeds with the same nutrient makeup. There is just nothing magical about its ability to improve health or athletic performance.”
The study, titled “No Positive Influence of Ingesting Chia Seed on Human Running Performance,” was published in the journal Nutrients.
“Chia is a very nutritious food that athletes should include in their diet,” Nieman explained, noting that chia is rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega-3 fatty acid, as well as fiber and several vitamins and minerals.
However, he added: “Our research shows that any athlete taking in chia seed oil during or before a run should not expect a benefit. The ALA in chia seeds is not used by the working muscle during intense exercise. The muscles prefer carbohydrate.”
The chia/runner boost legend dates to ancient Aztec messengers and Tarahumara Indians of northwestern Mexico, the lab noted.
Nieman actually initiated the study hoping to confirm the benefits of chia seed for athletic performance, hypothesizing that chia could provide “sustained energy to help the athletes go longer” after their initial carbohydrate stores were depleted.
But tests in 24 female and male runners ages 24-55 didn’t provide results to support the theory.
“When the athletes were running near marathon race pace, we found absolutely no effect on performance when they had the chia seed oil,” Nieman explained. “Some think that omega-3 asserts anti-inflammatory effects, and we found no influence from chia seed oil on exercise-induced inflammation either.”
The study was supported by the Dole Nutrition Institute (DNI) at the N.C. research Campus. NCRC founder David Murdoch owns Dole Food.
Another study found that chia seed had no effect on markers for disease.
Asked about the Aztec messengers and the Tarahumaras’ running performance, Nieman said research found that their diets are very are high in carbohydrates, with 90 percent coming from corn and beans. “This is an ideal diet for runners,” he said.